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Six Shining Lights: Salon Canberra’s Catherine Carter

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Canberra is a city brimming with high achievers—women who do incredible things on the local, national and international stage.

For our summer Magazine: Shine, we bring you stories of six local luminaries across a range of industries and find out what lights them up professionally and personally. And we are excited to announce that we will be bringing these women together for a candid and inspiring ‘In Conversation’ networking event on Thursday 30 April at the QT Hotel in partnership with Salon Canberra.

Salon Canberra has played a huge role in elevating the work of many of these women—among others—and its founder Catherine Carter has an interesting story to tell about her own career reinvigoration.

She moved from the Property Council of Australia to create the influential Salon think tank and is behind some of the city’s most creative synergies.

So what brought you to Canberra from Sydney in the first place?

I got married. My husband had grown up in Canberra and was very established here with a large network of family and friends, and a career he enjoyed.

Early on I was very determined to move back to Sydney after a couple of years, but it’s now been 20 years and I think I’ll stay.

What sparked your interest career-wise and where did it take you?

Before moving to Canberra, I worked as an advisor in the NSW Government and after that in various public affairs roles. Old friends frequently told me they were surprised I worked in such corporate jobs, because in my personal life I’d always been more interested in other creative fields.

Those same friends were then even more surprised when I moved to Canberra and went on to take a leadership role in the property industry. But the funny thing is that the property industry can be deeply creative, concerned as it is with urban form and the creation of places and spaces for people and communities. Over time I became deeply interested in the built environment and how great places can contribute to community well-being.

How did Salon Canberra come into being?

I had been thinking for a long time about ways to bring different people together to share ideas for the future of the city and region, and I wanted to facilitate conversations that aligned with my personal values around diversity and inclusion.

As it turned out, quite a few people liked the idea of a new kind of forum focused on the exchange of ideas which provides meaningful opportunities for cross-sector collaboration and networking in a fairly informal way.

What is the biggest reward of your work?

It gives me enormous joy to see people come together, get hold of an idea, and turn it into something tangible. I am constantly amazed by some of the incredible things that happen as a result of people from different backgrounds meeting at a Salon Canberra event.

Quite early on, when the concept was very new, a building owner offered space free of charge to a social entrepreneur. A developer commissioned a major sculptural work from a local artist. Scientists decided to work with filmmakers.

People have collaborated to do interesting things in all kinds of unexpected and exciting ways.

What is the biggest challenge?

Though I have big plans, right now I’m essentially a small business owner facing all the usual challenges keeping on top of cash flow and paperwork, and trying to manage workload. At times it definitely feels like a rollercoaster ride!

How do you separate work and life?

I don’t really see my work as being separate from the rest of my life.

These days I work from a home office. I like being able to work flexibly and being around for the kids. But I also know the demands of working very long hours in high-pressure situations.

For me, it’s about maintaining boundaries and giving myself permission to take a break when I need to.


Can’t use the widget? Purchase tickets via Eventbrite

Feature image: Rohan Thomson

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